This is a debate about the state of public education in North Carolina.

First James D. Hogan, a former high school English teacher, wrote a scathing article about the war against public education in North Carolina, waged by the Governor and the Legislature against teachers, students, and public schools.

Then came a rebuttal by Brenda Berg, a spokesperson for business, saying that Hogan was wrong.

Now comes an article by North Carolina high school teacher Stuart Egan, refuting Brenda Berg, point by point.

Ms. Berg,

I read with great interest your essay, entitled “The real war on education in North Carolina.” It was a carefully crafted response to James Hogan’s widely circulated op-ed piece, entitled “The war on North Carolina’s public schools,” in which he explained actions taken in the last few years by a GOP-led General Assembly that have seriously handcuffed the public school system in our state.

You are certainly right in many respects: There is a war on public education and much of the rhetoric surrounding this war is “built on half-truths” and masterfully spun double-speak.

You responded to Hogan’s arguments in a very professional and matter-of-fact manner, taking each of his supporting points and rebutting them with your own information. Yet, I would be remiss in not offering some clarification and insights as a veteran North Carolinian educator who has seen much in these last few years. In many instances, you have not only misinterpreted the data, you have also not explained the whole picture.

The first item you “debunked” from Mr. Hogan’s article was his assertion that “Among their first targets: … cuts to public schools, including laying off thousands of teachers… The state lost thousands more teacher and teacher assistant positions.”
You countered with numbers from the Department of Public Instruction about how the number of teachers in the state has actually increased since 2008. You said:

“We don’t know where Mr. Hogan finds evidence for the layoff of thousands of teachers. The North Carolina Statistical Profile from the Department of Public Instruction shows that in 2008, North Carolina had 97,676 teachers. Since 2008, the largest decline in the number of teachers employed in North Carolina was between 2011 and 2012, when the state employed 641 fewer teachers. There is no evidence that teachers were laid off; rather, it is more likely that vacant positions remained unfilled. In 2012, the state hired an additional 1,357 teachers and since then, the number of teachers has grown to 98,988 in 2014.”

With this use of numbers, you appear correct, but you are actually ignoring one very important item: growth of population. North Carolina has grown tremendously in the last few years. In fact, the number of teachers in 2014 should have been much higher to keep the same student to teacher ratio we had in 2008. Instead, high school class size caps have been removed statewide, and teachers are teaching more students per day.

Add to that your observation that vacant positions were unfilled. That in and of itself tells one there is no longer a teacher employed to “fill” that position. The duties remain, but now others have to assume them along with already growing responsibilities. Two teachers now are doing the work of what three teachers did in 2008. Attrition rates, early retirement, and reduction in force (RIF) are all real forces in schools today, and the effect is akin to layoffs.

Furthermore, do the numbers you refer to include all of the teacher assistants, media assistants, administrators, and other classified personnel who are no longer employed?

The next item you attempted to debunk involved state funding for schools. Mr. Hogan said, “Two years later, in the last budget cycle, 2014-15, the legislature provided roughly $500 million less for education than schools needed.”
You countered with the PolitiFact claim that “In fact, by 2014-15, North Carolina was still spending $100 million less on public education than it had before the economic recession.” Then you further explained:

“North Carolina is spending more today on public education than it did before the economic recession, even when adjusted for inflation. The public education appropriation for the 2014-15 school year is $11,013,800,000—a significantly higher number than the $9,406,300,000 allocated in 2007, just before the Great Recession. When adjusted for inflation, North Carolina is also spending more per pupil now than in any of the ten previous years, with the exception of 2009, a peak budget year.”

Again, you simplified the numbers. There is more there and much of it has to do with population increase and the need to educate more students.

Let me use an analogy. Say in 2008, a school district had 1,000 students in its school system and spent $10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a $10,000 per-pupil expenditure. Now in 2015, that same district has 1,500 students and the school system is spending $11.5 million to educate them. According to your analysis, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down, significantly by over $2,300 dollars per student or 23 percent.

A WRAL report from this past school year stated, “In terms of per-pupil spending, an NEA report ranks North Carolina 46th in the United States in 2014-15, up from 47th in 2013-14. But spending actually drops from $8,632 to $8,620 per student from last year to this year.” According to Governing magazine, even the Census Bureau confirms that we are spending less per student than in years past.

Mr. Hogan stated next, “And when Republicans finally acted to increase teacher pay, they claimed to make the biggest pay hike in state history–but in reality only bumped up paychecks by an average of $270 per year.”
Your rebuttal was:

“We find no evidence that supports Mr. Hogan’s claim that the teachers received on average a $270 increase in salary. The average salary for a North Carolina teacher in 2013, the year before the raise was added, was $44,990. If you multiply this number by the average percent raise, 6.9 percent (according to calculations from Fiscal Research), teachers received on average an additional $3,104 dollars on their annual paycheck, plus benefits….

In 2014, the General Assembly passed an average 6.9 percent raise for teachers. This year, both the House and the Senate have proposed additional teacher raises averaging 4 percent. Combined, this nearly 11 percent average raise makes significant progress toward addressing the 17.4 percent decline (adjusted for inflation) in salaries teachers experienced between 2003 and 2013.”

The operative word here is “average.” Beginning teachers saw an average pay hike of more than 10 percent, yet the more years a teacher had, the less of a “raise” was given. The result was an AVERAGE hike of 6.9 percent, but it was not an even distribution. In fact, some veterans saw a reduction in annual pay because much of the “raise” was funded with what used to be longevity pay. And as a teacher who has been in North Carolina for these past ten years, I can with certainty tell you that my salary has not increased by 6.9 percent.

Mr. Hogan’s claim that there was only an average salary increase of $270 comes when one takes the actual money allocated in the budget for the increase and dividing that evenly across the board.

That raise you refer to was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Like an annual bonus, all state employees receive it—except, now, for teachers—as a reward for continued service. Yet the budget you mentioned simply rolled that longevity money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise.

In the point about out-of-state teacher recruitment, Mr. Hogan said, “Meanwhile, Texas and Virginia started actively recruiting North Carolina teachers to go work in their states. It didn’t take much to convince Tarheel teachers to flee…”

You responded:

“Relatively few North Carolina teachers are leaving to teach in other states, and fewer are leaving now than before the economic recession. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s 2014 Teacher Turnover Report reports that only 455 left for this reason in 2014—just three percent of the 13,616 teachers who left their jobs last year. The percentage of teachers “fleeing” to other states was actually higher before the recession, as 3.5 percent of teachers in 2008 left to teach in other states.”

Editor’s Note: This paragraph in Berg’s original article has been corrected. It now states:

Relatively few North Carolina teachers are leaving to teach in other states, and rates have been relatively consistent since the economic recession. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s 2014 Teacher Turnover Report reports that the percentage of teachers leaving for other states rose slightly in 2014 (734, or 5.4 percent) with fewer leaving (341, or 3.5 percent) in 2012, consistent with the rate in 2008 (467, or 3.5 percent).

Teachers are not simply leaving North Carolina to teach in other states; many are leaving the profession altogether. The 2014 Teacher Turnover Report only states the information given to DPI. Not all teachers who leave teaching jobs take the survey, but from what I have witnessed, many teachers leave the profession because they cannot simply afford to raise a family on a North Carolina teacher’s salary. Younger mothers cannot afford day care, and teachers in border counties are easily lured to other states. They do not have to be recruited.

Furthermore, other states like Texas have had recruitment fairs in the state, and highly publicized ones at that. Most notably were a couple done by the Houston Public Schools, who are now led by Terry Grier, the former Guilford County superintendent. He knows the conditions in North Carolina and took advantage of the situation. While he may not have taken entire faculties with him, the fact that he was actively recruiting in North Carolina shows how conditions have deteriorated in this state.

So many teachers left the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System this past year (some estimate that it was more than 1,000), that the school system participated in over 50 job fairs, according to a May 25th WBTV report. As of two weeks ago, over 300 positions were still posted. And the CMS system is in a border county. Just look in York County, SC and see how many of their teachers were formerly employed by our state.

There is more. If you want to see a brilliant teacher, with no research assistant, doing a demolition job, keep reading.

You be the judge.